Arizona Senate taps firm for voting audit that did discredited Michigan election report

By: - February 4, 2021 1:31 pm

A protester holds a sign outside the Executive Tower in Phoenix on Dec. 14, 2020. The protesters believe Donald Trump won re-election in 2020 and objected to the state casting its electoral votes for Joe Biden. | Jerod MacDonald-Evoy, Arizona Mirror

Republican Arizona Senate President Karen Fann has chosen a firm that produced a widely discredited report on voting in Michigan, and which includes a Trump campaign associate with a well-documented history of spreading false and baseless claims about the 2020 election, to conduct an audit of the election in Maricopa County, according to records obtained by the Arizona Mirror.

In a Feb. 2 email, attorney Kory Langhofer, who represents the Arizona Senate, informed two lawyers representing Maricopa — Arizona’s most populous county — that the Senate had selected Allied Security Operations Group to conduct the audit. The Dallas-area firm, which has worked closely with the Trump campaign, would work under another auditor who has not yet been chosen. 

“I have attached personnel resumes and the proposed scope of work for Allied Security Operations Group. The Senate has not yet selected the auditor under whom ASOG would work,” Langhofer wrote.

Democratic President Joe Biden flipped key states like Arizona and Michigan to defeat then-President Donald Trump in November. Many Republican officials in these states have pushed debunked election conspiracies and called for recounts or audits, especially in counties with large populations of color.

Fann said no one has officially been selected to conduct the audit, and that the Senate is looking at a few firms. The Senate announced on Friday that it had hired a firm, though Fann later told the Mirror that she had selected a firm, but nothing was official and she was still considering other firms as well.

The company’s audit team includes Phil Waldron, a retired U.S. Army colonel who testified as an expert for Trump campaign attorney Rudy Giuliani at hearings in Arizona and other states where Trump falsely claimed the election was rigged against him.

Fann and Sen. Warren Petersen, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, have issued subpoenas to Maricopa County for more than 2 million ballots, along with tabulation machines, software, voter registration records and other data, which they want so they can conduct an audit of the general election. The county is challenging those subpoenas in court, arguing that the Senate is exceeding its legal authority.

Senate Republicans were scheduled to meet on Wednesday to discuss their next steps after Maricopa County refused a request to set a date for when it would turn over the subpoenaed materials and data. The Senate Rules Committee will determine at its 1:35 p.m. meeting whether to grant permission to introduce a resolution to hold the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors in contempt for refusing to comply with the subpoenas. 

Though a judge has not ruled on whether the county must turn over the materials requested by the Senate, Petersen said the supervisors could be jailed and charged with misdemeanor offenses for refusing to comply.

Allied Security Operations Group produced a report on the election in Antrim County, Mich., where a human error involving a software update in the county’s ballot tabulation machines briefly showed the heavily Republican county strongly favoring Biden on election night. The error was quickly corrected but helped spawn months of conspiracy theories regarding Dominion Voting Systems, the company that provides the northern Michigan county’s ballot counting machines.

ASOG’s report falsely claimed that the Antrim County’s machines had a 68% error rate, an allegation that Trump repeated on Twitter. Michigan election officials and Dominion have taken issue with other claims from the report, which asserted that Antrim County’s election equipment “is intentionally and purposefully designed with inherent errors to create systemic fraud and influence election results.”

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and Attorney General Dana Nessel, both Democrats, said ASOG “has no apparent expertise in election administration and technology” and said its work appeared to be “limited to the previous release and amplification of other false information and fake documents.”

Chris Krebs, a former cybersecurity analyst in the Trump administration who was fired for publicly saying there was no widespread fraud in the general election, has also criticized ASOG’s Antrim County report, testifying to the U.S. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee that the report’s findings were “factually inaccurate.”

Russell Ramsland, ASOG’s co-founder, also mistakenly confused voting jurisdictions in Minnesota and Michigan in an analysis of voter turnout, and in a federal lawsuit he inaccurately claimed that some jurisdictions in Michigan had voter turnout well over 100%, claiming turnout in one area was 782%. Ramsland claimed, for example that Detroit, where turnout was just under 51%, actually had turnout of 139%.

Langhofer’s email to attorneys Tom Liddy and Steve Tully includes an email from Ramsland in which he included résumés for members of ASOG’s audit team.

That audit team includes Waldron, who rose to prominence after the general election as a witness for Giuliani at hearings in Arizona, Georgia and Michigan, where his testimony was frequently marked by inaccurate, false and baseless claims regarding election fraud or misconduct.

At an unofficial hearing held by Republican legislators at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Phoenix on Nov. 30, Waldron claimed that Maricopa County’s ballot tabulation machines, which are also provided by Dominion, were connected to the internet during the counting of ballots, which would leave them open to manipulation. County officials and election workers have repeatedly reiterated that the machines weren’t connected to the internet, and Waldron presented no evidence to the contrary.

At the same hearing, Waldron falsely claimed that election officials in Maricopa County don’t verify voter signatures on early ballots that are returned by mail or in person. He also presented what he claimed was an anonymous email from a Pima County resident alleging that Democrats had crafted a plan to “embed votes” across the state.

At a legislative hearing in Georgia, Waldron alleged that fraudulent ballots had been trucked into the state and that a video showed election workers with bags of fraudulent ballots. But when a Democratic lawmaker pressed him on the matter, Waldron was unable to back up his claims, instead pointing to affidavits making similar claims in other states, and insisting that a “full forensic audit” could clear up the matter.

And in Michigan, Waldron made a number of false or dubious allegations to a legislative panel, including repeating the debunked claim that various jurisdictions had voter turnout well in excess of 100 percent. 

Ramsland’s email included résumés for several members of ASOG’s audit team, some who were unnamed for “reasons of security.”

According to the scope of work that was included in Langhofer’s email to Liddy and Tully, ASOG’s duties would include conducting a hand-count of 550,000 ballots from the general election in Maricopa County. Scans of 55,000 of those ballots would be subjected to “forensic examination and analysis.”

ASOG would also be tasked with conducting a detailed examination of some ballot tabulation machines provided by Dominion, as well as logs and other data and electronic records from the machines. 

The scope of work states that ASOG is to be paid $10,000 for its work.

Maricopa County said it provided tens of thousands of pages of documents to the Senate, including publicly available voter registration information, event logs showing who accessed election equipment and detailed reports of election results. But the county has refused to turn over more than 2.1 million paper ballots, which it said it cannot legally provide to the Senate. The county also said state law and its contract with Dominion may prevent it from turning over ballot tabulation machines.

Supervisor Bill Gates, the board’s vice chairman, was sharply critical of ASOG’s involvement.

“Not only is it illegal under Arizona state law for this Board to turn over custody of the ballots, it is also unfathomable that the Arizona Senate has hired a known, and frequently debunked, conspiracy theorist to conduct their audit,” Gates said in a press statement on Wednesday.

The county began its own audit of its election equipment on Tuesday, and it expects to finish on Thursday or Friday. A second audit approved by the Board of Supervisors will begin next week.

A version of this story ran in the Advance’s sister outlet, the Arizona Mirror, which is part of States Newsroom, a network of news outlets supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Arizona Mirror maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jim Small for questions: [email protected]. Follow Arizona Mirror on Facebook and Twitter.

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Jeremy Duda
Jeremy Duda

Associate Editor Jeremy Duda is a Phoenix native and began his career in journalism in 2003 after graduating from the University of Arizona. Prior to joining the Arizona Mirror, he worked at the Arizona Capitol Times, where he spent eight years covering the Governor's Office and two years as editor of the Yellow Sheet Report.